This primary assembly revisits the theme of the Paralympics and contender Eleanor Simmonds. It discusses her journey – and the fact that she won two gold medals – and explores how it might feel for her to return home
At the beginning of September, the world was introduced to swimmer Eleanor Simmonds as a potential Paralympic medallist. In the event, she exceeded all expectations by winning two gold medals, in the 100m and 400m freestyle. Now the dust has settled and Ellie has finally gone back to school. We look at Ellie’s wonderful reception there and reflect on her new celebrity status – which is based, unlike so much “celeb” hype, on hard work and real achievement.
You should try to show the video of Ellie’s return to school. It’s currently on the BBC News Wales
There are also still pictures on the CBBC Newsround site.
Remember Eleanor Simmonds? Who remembers that name?
Yes, Ellie Simmonds is the thirteen year old girl who won two gold medals for swimming in the Paralympics in Beijing. She wasn’t really expected to do quite so well – this year was supposed to be part of her build up to the London Paralympics in 2012. So now, of course, she has a lot to live up to over the next few years.
Ellie, of course, is a schoolgirl. When the Paralympics finished, along with all the press interviews and celebrations, she returned to her school. I wonder what it was like for her? Do you think she just walked in with her friends, as usual, and people said, “Hi Ellie! What have you been doing over the summer?”
No, it wasn’t like that at all. It was like this [show the video and/or read the description].
Ellie was driven up to school, Olchfa Comprehensive in Swansea, with her friends in a stretch limo decorated with gold ribbons. All the school was out to greet her, chanting “Ellie, Ellie”. As she got out of the car, wearing her two medals, she was presented with bouquets. She greeted her friends with lots of hugs. People crowded round to see her medals, and all the time they were cheering and calling her name. Then in school there was a special assembly, where there was a gold medal shaped cake. Everyone in the school had a cake too. Then there was a special Year 9 assembly, a quieter time for people to show their feelings and hear what Ellie had to say. She’s a popular girl, you see, and very much admired. Here’s what her head of year, Dave Williams, has to say about her;
“She is an inspiration to everyone around her. She has done an awful lot to put disability on the map and show that you can take a lot of positives from it. Everyone is excited about having her back, and returning to school and regular lessons is just what she needs to keep her grounded. But she is a very well-driven individual who has a lot of support and she brings the same attitude to her schoolwork as she does to everything else.”
And, best of all perhaps, as well as winning two gold medals, Ellie has won a half day holiday for her school.
What do you think Mr Williams meant when he said, coming back to lessons was “just what she needs to keep her grounded?”
I think he means that when a young person is suddenly in the limelight, although it’s exciting and positive they need to remember that life can’t stay glamorous all the time. There’s work to be done, friends to catch up with, and everyday life to live. I guess it was probably a relief in some ways for Ellie to come back to her school.
Ellie teaches us lots of lessons. One is that many kinds of people can achieve fame and be admired, and the best and most satisfying way to become famous is to achieve something worthwhile that really wins the admiration of other people. Ellie got there by hard training and determination. She even had to move down to Swansea from her home in Walsall with her parents to be near her coach and a suitable pool.
What is Ellie’s disability? Once upon a time some people might have just called her a dwarf, but her condition is actually called achondroplasia, and it’s genetic. Like most people with the condition she won’t grow to be much more than about 110cm tall. As well as being short, some of the bones in various part of the body are slightly different in people with achondroplasia, but there are no effects at all on anything else. Ellie, or any other person with the condition, can achieve just as well at school as anyone else – in some cases perhaps more so because of a determination to make up for being a bit different.
Ellie now has every opportunity to build a career, perhaps with swimming or coaching in it somewhere. But even if she doesn’t want to do that, even if she gives up swimming, she has hopefully gained confidence and a sense of achievement that will stay with her forever.
Lord, we thank you for the example of people like Ellie Simmonds, who show us the beauty and strength of the human spirit. We thank you for the inspiration she gives to other people with disabilities and all of the people around her. Help her keep the memory of the Olympics alive in her heart.
We all have abilities and disabilities. What Ellie shows us is that we must work with our abilities and not fret about the things that we can’t do.
Lots on achondroplasia at www.achondroplasia.co.uk.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2008
About the author: Gerald Haigh